melted cheese on a bowl of signature chili

Happy first day of fall, y’all! Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Mother Nature hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s no longer summer and, according to the weather woman, will be cranking out mid 70s for the foreseeable future. I’m not complaining, but after experiencing the frigid 50s a few weeks ago I’ve made the mental shift and no longer feel right wearing short sleeves. Thus, I have been LIV-ING in jeans and The Black Fleece. You know the one!

Anyway, my taste buds are also craving a cozy yet casual experience so, despite the summery temps, I broke out my go-to Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili recipe last weekend and gave it an updated twist to share with you today!

Watch How to Make It!

Growing up I never liked chili. It was always too…I don’t know, tomato-y? My Dad, the chief chili cooker in my house, always made it with huge hunks of tomato which – gagsville. Not to knock on my Dad’s cooking but he likes chunks and, well, I don’t.

spoonful of signature chili

It wasn’t until my early 20s that I finally fell in love with chili. I was living in the frigid tundra otherwise known as Minneapolis in the wintertime when one of my best girlfriends made a big pot for us to warm up with one dark and freezing night. The chili immediately won me over and I wrote the recipe down as soon as I scraped up the last bits from my bowl.

What was so great about Lindsey’s recipe that could erase 20+ years of chili avoidance? Surprise, surprise, it’s a tad sweet, plus it’s got some heat. Normally I’m not a huge fan of spicy food, but with the touch of sweet it totally works.

Over the years I’ve fine-tuned her recipe to fit our tastes to a T and it’s become my go-to signature chili. I have the recipe memorized and make it over and over again in the fall and wintertime. It’s awesome for making on a Sunday afternoon then eating for lunch all week long. Add some Gluten Free Cornbread and I’m set!

spoon dunked into a bowl of signature chili

How to Make This Recipe

Start by browning 1lb ground beef with 1 large chopped shallot or 1 small onion, 2 cloves garlic, salt, and pepper in a large soup pot or Dutch Oven.


Next add 28oz can tomato sauce, 15oz can baked beans, and 15oz can black beans that have been drained and rinsed. For whatever reason I’ve always used Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans in my signature chili, but you can use whatever kind you like best. I just love how the baked beans add a touch of sweetness!


Now add all the spices that turn tomato sauce and beans into Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili! You’ll need 3 Tablespoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon each salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon (or more or less) cayenne pepper.

The smoked paprika gives this chili a totally unique flavor and plays well off the smoky/spicy chili and cayenne powders. Mmm!


Now for the piece de resistance: 1-2 heaping Tablespoons brown sugar. The chili tastes completely different without the brown sugar so if you like a subtle sweetness in your chili then you’ve just got to go for it! Trust me, it will not make your chili taste like candy. It’s all about balance between spicy, smoky, and sweet.


Place a lid on top then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring two or three times.


FYI – This chili also freezes PERFECTLY. Let it cool completely then scoop into a freezer bag and freeze flat. To reheat, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat on the stove.


When it’s time to eat, scoop the chili into bowls then top with melted cheese, chopped green onions, and tortilla chips for crunch, plus Gluten Free Cornbread. I could not love this chili more – me + Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili = always and forever!

bowl of chili with cheese and cornbread

More Chili Recipes to Love

Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili


Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili is my signature chili recipe. Slightly spicy, smoky, and sweet, it’s crock pot and freezer-friendly, too!


serves 6

  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1 large shallot or 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 29oz can tomato sauce
  • 15oz can Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans
  • 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1-2 heaping Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less)
  • Toppings: shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, tortilla chips, sour cream


  1. Heat a large soup pot or Dutch Oven over medium-high heat then add ground beef, shallot or onion, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper then brown and drain if necessary. Return the beef to the pot then add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Turn heat down to medium-low then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Scoop into bowls then serve with toppings.
  2. Crock Pot Cooking Instructions: Transfer ground beef mixture to a 5 or 6 quart crock pot then add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine (can be done ahead of time. Store in the refrigerator until ready to start cooking.) Place a lid on top then cook on low for 4-6 hours.
  3. Leave a comment and star rating if you loved the recipe! Thank you for considering!


This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats,


photo collage of signature chili